Maggie Patchett was in Belize from 2007 - 2013. She worked as a consultant, mainly with YES (Youth Enhancement Services), a small NGO supported by Action for Children and the Methodist Church. YES works with young girls who initially come with their self-esteem at rock bottom, and leave transformed.
Maggie also worked with the Women's Issues Network; on partnership funding proposals on issues such as gender based violence and HIV/AIDS, and on the strategic planning for Methodist high schools.
Here are some questions we asked Maggie during her time in Belize, to give you more of an idea of her work there:
How would you summarise the work you are doing as a mission partner?
I am a lay person, working with the Methodist Church in the Belize / Honduras District of the MCCA. I work throughout the district, assisting in the development of the Children and Youth work, although I do many other things too, fitting in as needed. I am a liaison point between the circuits here in Belize and mission teams from the United Methodist Church in the USA.
I also work with some of the non-government organisations (NGOs) in Belize, especially those connected with youth and women's issues, including sexual exploitation, gender based violence and HIV stigma and discrimination. I am involved in developing partnership working, including developing joint funding proposals.
My work is varied and interesting - no two weeks are the same. I may be in meetings (lots of those!), on a planning or review retreat (venues varying from very basic, to occasionally, one of the resort hotels!), at camp with 120 children and youth, training high school teachers about sexual exploitation issues, taking part in an advocacy parade (Belizeans love their parades), driving the local preacher to a rural church service, or driving the minibus to deliver meals to the homeless, typing up reports, writing a funding proposal, leading workshops for children and youth workers, delivering session of a parenting course to teen mothers, or even helping get the paperwork ready for the annual district conference.
What has been your greatest challenge?
There is so much to be done; working with both Youth Enhancement Services and with the Methodist Church means there are a lot of demands on my time. Trying to not overwork is probably the greatest challenge!
Being accepted by some of the people here - Belize has only been independent from the UK for 26 years. There is a perception by some that UK is still trying to tell the people here what to do - this also goes way back to the slavery issue too. BUT when people know / meet me at a personal level, and they come to understand why and what I'm doing - and the way I try to work - mostly the problems disappear.
What impact do you feel you have made?
I've assisted people and organisations to look at their long-term planning and to put more structure into this; and to develop more partnership working - to everyone's benefit - and I've been able to make links between people. I've also been able to help with funding applications, enabling projects to run, and with training and awareness-raising especially in areas related to child abuse and exploitation.
You are involved in a lot of projects that focus on young people. Could you tell me a bit about some work you have been involved with that has been really satisfying for you?
In Belize primary education is free but high school isn't so there are many, many young people who can't go to school. YES, which I am involved with, provides education in literacy and numeracy as well as life-skills training to 'at-risk' girls.
These are girls whose families can't afford to send them to school, or who didn't make the grades needed for high school. They are also girls who have behavioural and emotional difficulties, often as a result of difficulties in their families. Many of the girls we work with at YES have been victims of CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children) or are teen mums or are living with HIV.
As well as life-skills training YES also provides counselling services and teaches income-generating skills, like hospitality, paper-making and card-making, sewing, cooking.
It's a two year programme so you can really see the changes in the girls, they come to YES with their self-esteem at rock bottom and leave changed.
Another piece of work I am involved in is a Leadership Group training. This is for girls who are in mainstream education but want to have their awareness raised, learn, so that they can be advocates for other girls. I remember one girl in particular who started out on the YES programme, Siamara. Her behaviour was very challenging and yet she has grown and matured and now she is playing a leading role in the Leadership Group. I hear great stories from the staff who work with the girls and Siamara's name is one that always crops up.
I've been worked on setting up a scholarship fund, which is funded by the United Methodist Church (UMC), which allows six kids from the rural Methodist primary schools to go to the Methodist high school. It all started because one time when a group of people from the UMC were visiting I took them on a detour and we popped into one of the rural churches for the morning service.
The church and school share the same building, just one big room really, and actually the school had to divide the room because the numbers of children attending were really growing. So these people from the UMC were really moved by the fact that so many of these kids just wouldn't be able to go on to high school because of the fees - that's what inspired us to set up the scholarship fund.
One of the mum's I spoke to whose son was able to go to high school because of the funding was just overwhelmed, she just couldn't get over the fact that they didn't have to pay the fees - "Really? I don't have to pay?" - and that her boy would be able to stay in education.
How do you think God is guiding you in your work?
Well, He's in control of it all; each day starts with asking Him to be with me in all that I do, think, and speak - whether that's at my desk, in a meeting or wherever. The connections that have been made, the people I work with, the priorities and choices I need to make, are all directed by prayer and by being in a right relationship with God. Also, being able to talk issues over and discuss things with other Christians, both Methodists and others, and working with so many people who are Christ-centred is a wonderful privilege.
What has surprised you most of all?
That I've started training as a local preacher!